WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Adm. William Fallon, the top U.S. commander for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, will retire because of misperceptions he disagrees with the Bush administration on Iran, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Tuesday.
Fallon asked to retire after a magazine article portrayed him as challenging President George W. Bush on Iran policy. The article in Esquire magazine suggested Fallon was pushing the administration to avoid war with Iran.
"I have approved Admiral Fallon's request to retire with reluctance and regret," Gates told reporters at the Pentagon.
Fallon heads U.S. Central Command, the headquarters which oversees U.S. operations in the Middle East, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Fallon will retire at the end of the month and his deputy, Army Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey will take charge of Central Command until a long-term successor is chosen, Gates said.
Gates praised Fallon and insisted the admiral had supported the administration's policy of using diplomacy to try to resolve differences with Tehran while not taking military options off the table.
"Recent press reports suggesting a disconnect between my views and the President's policy objectives have become a distraction at a critical time and hamper efforts in the CENTCOM region," Fallon said in a statement.
"And although I don't believe there have ever been any differences about the objectives of our policy in the Central Command Area of Responsibility, the simple perception that there is makes it difficult for me to effectively serve America's interests there," he said.
(Reporting by David Morgan and Andrew Gray, Editing by Patricia Wilson)
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